Concert Reviews

Over the weekend: Iwrestledabearonce at the Marquis Theater

Iwrestledabearonce, Human Abstract and Vanna
Friday, May 22, 2009
Marquis Theater
Better Than:
A full-on emocore show.

Human Abstract started the show off with a blend of death metal and proggy screamo. Singer Nathan Ells switched between the death metal growl and higher-register distorted screamo vocals seamlessly. For the most part they sounded like a decent nü metal act, but some chill, melodic breaks and Ells' sonic contributions kept the whole thing from being too silly.

Up next was Vanna, who was more in the vein of one of those ultra-hardcore latter day emo bands that has one singer doing the distorted, controlled, pre-vomiting vocals while the other handles the melodies. That match-up usually sounds incredibly contrived, and such was the case with Vanna. Loud and energetic are not the only ingredients of exciting. Worse, the music was also fairly predictable and the anthemic element to many of the band's songs was laughable. Singer Chris Preece kept cajoling the crowd into dancing and moving around like crazy, and for the most part it worked.

At one point Preece made me laugh with him instead of at his band, when he told he us that we all probably live for something, and that when he and his band mates wake up in the morning, it's Street Fighter Alpha. Then he seemingly sincerely offered to share strategy guides and everything at the merch booth after the show. Even though I didn't think the band's music was even remotely interesting, at least it wasn't painful to stand through its set, and the guys played like they really loved what they were doing with no doubts whatsoever -- and that has to count for something. When you put that much of yourself into your music, you deserve an audience.

Iwrestledabearonce opened its closing set with something like a sample mixed with live instrumentation of Europe's "The Final Countdown." Having seen other bands pull this kitschy maneuver before, I was prepared for the set to lack the intensity and energy of the recordings I'd heard and videos I'd seen. But those fears were put to rest when the band kicked into one its originals. Maybe it's all kind of a big joke to this band, but even if it is, the grindcore-based rhythm section and vocals coupled with some splintered prog guitar ideas were refreshingly not in lock step with the music of the act's supposed peers.

The jazzy mid-song passages and the group's fearless weaving of electronic music into the frenzy of harried instrumentation and vocals sets Iwrestledabearonce apart at least superficially. But what I saw was a band that was coming into its own style of music. It wasn't just disparate parts awkwardly pieced together to be different for the sake of being different. With a short set that included "You Ain't No Family," and closed with "Tastes Like Kevin Bacon," this quintet from Shreveport, Louisiana proved that spastic music can be more than two-dimensional.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias:
Anyone blending musical styles without coming off like sonic dilettantes is okay with me.
Random Detail: Chris Preece of Vanna had on a t-shirt that said, "What the FUCK is Christian Hardcore?"
By the Way: Iwrestledabearonce had the coolest selection of t-shirts I've yet seen at a reasonable price.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.